Saints get past Panthers to keep pace in NFC South

Published 9:46 pm Sunday, December 10, 2023

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Derek Carr sounded determined not to dwell on any dysfunction evident within the Saints’ offense after New Orleans overcame three shaky quarters and did enough to defeat the team with the NFL’s worst record.

Carr returned from a recent concussion and upper body injuries to throw late touchdown passes to Chris Olave and Jimmy Graham, and the Saints beat the hapless Carolina Panthers 28-6 on Sunday to pull back into a tie atop the feeble NFC South.

“I’m not trying to be negative,” Carr said when asked about a heated exchange with center Erik McCoy following a sack on a third-and-2 play.

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“There really is nothing wrong,” Carr added. “We had a moment. I’ve had some of those moments in my 10 years a lot of times, with a coach, with a teammate, somebody. You always circle back and make it right and keep going.”

McCoy said he wanted to offer a “public apology” for his “public disagreement” with Carr, and asserted that he and his QB remained on good terms.

“My emotions were high. His emotions were high about how things had been going through the game and I lost my cool,” said McCoy, who was caught on camera being restrained by a teammate as he screamed at Carr. “I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Saints coach Dennis Allen was critical of how New Orleans’ offense functioned at times, but sounded less concerned by the Carr-McCoy flareup.

“If you’re ever in a highly competitive environment and things aren’t going the way that you want it to go, yeah, there’s sometimes that you get frustrated, you lash out,” Allen said.

Alvin Kamara ran 9 yards for a touchdown as New Orleans (6-7) snapped a three-game skid and pulled even in the division with Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay beat Atlanta 29-25 on Sunday.

Carolina (1-12) helped New Orleans with a couple of poorly executed special teams plays en route to their sixth straight loss.

Johnny Hekker’s punt attempt in the second quarter was smothered by Saints linebacker Nephi Sewell. D’Marco Jackson scooped what was officially ruled a fumble and returned it 8 yards for a touchdown that gave New Orleans a 14-3 lead.

“We shot ourselves in the foot and had catastrophic mistakes,” Panthers interim coach Chris Tabor said. “Everything’s frustrating if I can be completely honest. How are you going to handle it? It’s tough after this loss, but we have to keep going.”

While the Saints won for the first time since Nov. 5, frustrated fans in the Superdome didn’t hesitate to boo when Carr and Co. stalled inside the 10 on their opening possession and Blake Gruppe missed a 29-yard field goal try.

They did so again when Carr was intercepted late in the first half by defensive end Derrick Brown, who batted a pass off of guard Cesar Ruiz’s helmet and caught it on the rebound.

Playing one week after leaving a game with a concussion, as well as a fractured rib and a sore shoulder, Carr passed for just 37 yards through three-plus quarters. He finished 18-for-26 for 119 yards.

“I’m just excited that we won a game today,” Carr said. “I got enough yards and touchdowns for a lifetime. I came here to win. … We’ve thrown for 300 and lost and that’s a crappy week.”

Carr’s first pass of 10 yards or more came in the fourth quarter when he opened a decisive series with a 43-yard completion to rookie A.T. Perry, who made a diving catch at the Carolina 20. Carr then found Graham for 12 yards on third-and-9 to set up his 7-yard scoring pass to Olave, who hadn’t practiced all week because of an illness.

Carr added a 4-yard scoring pass to Graham — the veteran tight end’s third TD this season — late in the game after the Panthers had turned the ball over on downs in their own territory.

The Panthers stalled twice inside the Saints 20 in the second half and made just one of two field goals on those possessions. They also went 1-of-7 on fourth down.

Rookie quarterback Bryce Young’s season-long struggles continued. The first overall draft choice finished 13-of-36 for 137 yards and lost a fumble in the first half. He was sacked four times.